The talk of the town is dissent – the right to dissent and an undeclared emergency reigning in India’s political landscape, as the Modi regime has unleashed state repression on political dissenters, human rights activists, advocates and intellectuals who’ve refused obeisance towards it. Using a corporate media-sponsored paranoia over “Urban Naxals”, the Modi regime is justifying its totalitarian rule on Indian people. After arresting five prominent human rights activists and intellectuals in July, when the Pune Police arrested five others in the last week of August, it sparked a prairie fire of discontent throughout the nation and many intellectuals, public figures and opposition politicians started accusing the Modi regime of imposing an undeclared emergency and a reign of terror to intimidate the dissenting voice.
While giving relief to the recently arrested five intellectuals, the Supreme Court’s division bench led by the Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra, called dissent as the “safety valve” of a democracy and thereby established the fact that the Indian people do have their right to dissent and refuse to show obeisance towards the Hindutva fascist government. Though the Supreme Court didn’t quash the false allegations levelled against the activists and turned their arrest into house-arrest, the observation by the apex court and its controversial CJI, did provide a new lease of life to the people’s movements against Hindutva fascism and the undeclared emergency imposed by it.
An undeclared emergency is more dangerous than a declared one because under it though the people lose all rights, they aren’t informed about it. Unlike emergency, in which the media is censored by the rulers, during an undeclared emergency, the media follows self-censorship, desisting from criticising the government and works as the mouthpiece of the regime. The corporate houses, whose interest the government serves, own the major media outlets and through them, they try to broadcast the propaganda of their own government. Their media, toady in character and servile in nature, try to portray a positive and “all-is-well” image of a really gloomy and disastrous situation.
In such a situation, when an undeclared emergency reigns, it becomes extremely hard for the common people to comprehend the peril they’re thrown into and how to differentiate between their genuine friends and foes. As their media, the so-called “conscience keeper” of any parliamentary democracy, won’t tell them about the threat to their rights and livelihood but only about threats posed by sane and anti-fascist forces to the government, the politically backward people, who are in majority in a country like India, won’t be able to rally against the danger posed by fascism.
The Big Question
Now, the questions roaming out in the wilderness of Indian political arena are, whether India is in a state of undeclared emergency? Are the Constitutionally guaranteed rights of the people taken away? Is this the only period after 1977 that emergency is underway?
The assumption that the Indian democracy is threatened and an undeclared emergency is imposed on the country, is absolutely correct, however, it’s not the whole truth. The whole truth is that the Indian people, the majority of poor workers, peasants and toiled people, the majority of whom belongs to the lower castes or minority communities, have been living under an undeclared emergency since time immemorial.
Constitution-guaranteed democratic rights and freedom, about which liberals and some parliamentary lefts usually do raise a collective cacophony, actually never existed for the poor and the oppressed; it’s a myth behind which the rulers have so far been able to rally all pacifist and opportunist political players. Democracy, like religion, has always been in peril, not only in the popular rhetoric of opposition leaders since 1947, rather also in the literal terms. Undeclared emergency is ruling in India ever since the Indian’s were told they were free from colonial rule.
The Problem of Democracy in India
Democracy is won; it’s neither granted nor passed voluntarily like a ruler’s baton. However, the Indian rulers didn’t win their “democracy” by defeating the British colonial rulers, rather, a peaceful transfer of power happened in 1947, when the British imperialist lords handed over the baton of rule to their servile lackeys in the subcontinent, the big feudal landlords and the comprador capitalists.
The transfer of power to the reactionary classes, the retaining of a colonial bureaucratic machinery and the pursuance of colonial-era laws until now to suppress mass discontent, bear testimony that the democracy the Indian rulers promised to the country, remain elusive even now. The only thing the people could win are some important rights through the Indian Constitution; however, in a largely semi-colonial and semi-feudal society, where religious morality and commandments govern the lives of people, constitutional morality finds no buyers outside the outskirts of a liberal democrat’s drawing room.
Indian history, since the end of the direct colonial rule, is the history of a quasi-democracy that masked the hardcore fascist character of the subsequent governments and the Indian state in general with a democratic and progressive label. It’s a history of an undeclared emergency through which the upper-caste elite ruling class deprived the poor of their Constitution-guaranteed rights. It’s a history where the poor waged heroic struggles for democracy, yet failed to achieve greater goals due to the treachery of their leadership.
While in the real sense of the term, democracy is about the rule of a constitutional morality that’s not governed by religious codes or the whims of dictators, in India the base for such a democracy to exist was never made. India got its taste of democracy imposed from the top by a Constitution and not from the grassroots through a revolution that would overthrow the dominant feudal production relation, which governs the politics of the country and sends the political decision makers in large numbers to rule the country.
Dr BR Ambedkar, the chief architect of the Indian Constitution, claimed, “Constitutional morality is not a natural sentiment. It has to be cultivated. We must realise that our people have yet to learn it. Democracy in India is only a top-dressing on an Indian soil which is essentially undemocratic.”
To teach the people constitutional morality, one has to have a ruling framework that’s devoid of feudal morality, colonial servility and fascism. However, quite unfortunately for the people of the Union of India, feudalism and democracy thrived together in this land of irony, the former engulfing the latter and turning it into a docile tool.
Though democracy is guaranteed in the Constitution, the only democratic right the people have is the right to vote, which is also compromised in most parts of the country, where the clout of the dominant feudal landlords, criminals and other de facto rulers dictate for whom the dominated, exploited and oppressed people will cast their votes. The elected representatives of the people never behave as if they’re people’s deputies, rather they turn into the people’s rulers with the brute force of the state in their pocket.
While the Constitution has granted each Indian citizen the six fundamental rights: (i) right to equality, (ii) right to freedom, (iii) right against exploitation, (iv) right to freedom of religion, (v) cultural and educational rights, and (vi) right to constitutional remedies, in practice the majority classes, i.e. the workers, the peasantry, the toiled masses, can’t afford to exercise these rights and are smashed under the juggernaut of a semi-colonial and semi-feudal exploitative system.
The economic disparity between the rich few and the poor many has increased considerably in the last 70 years, widening the income gap and multiplying the number of people living below the poverty line. While 1 per cent of Indian rich own 73 per cent of Indian wealth, more than 60 per cent of the people have less than $2 per day to make a living. Never did the Indian state take a step towards controlling this filthy rule of the rich, despite using the term “Socialist” in the preamble of the Indian Constitution.
Gender-wise, the Indian society has been the most patriarchal and misogynist in nature, where, despite worshipping femininity as a power and symbol of fertility, female foeticide is a normalised practice, domestic violence against women is rampant and rapes happen every minute throughout the country. The women are exploited economically by the ruling classes and then by the patriarchal society at each step of life. Subsequent governments only resorted to rhetoric on women empowerment and in the meantime expressed their own misogynist views on each occasion.
In a society where caste and religious identity define the course that an individual will traverse in life, a society where caste is directly responsible for one’s class position, a society where one’s religious identity can have them killed, democracy, Constitutional rights and freedom go for a toss together. Democracy remains as a farce, while the feudal-casteist-Brahmanical tyranny rules the land on behalf of big landlords, big corporate houses and foreign capital.
Farmers have no right or say on the support price of crops, the future of their land and their livelihood; the peasants have no say regarding their wages and share crops; the workers have no rights or say over their wages and rights; the common people have remained deprived of the right to question the very parliament, the judiciary and the executive, the three branches of this quasi-democracy that run on their own money. At each end, the people are gagged, muzzled and booted by the powerful whenever they try to express their views. Bullets, tear gas, batons and pellets wait for the people who desire to express their right to freedom by the state, not merely in Kashmir, but everywhere.
When he resigned from the cabinet of Nehru, Dr Ambedkar said, “To leave inequality between class and class, between sex and sex, which is the soul of Hindu society, and to go on passing legislation relating to economic problems is to make a farce of our Constitution and to build a palace on a dung heap.”
Subsequent governments since the one led by Nehru have only raised the height of the castle built on cow dung heap, which has now reached a saturation point under Narendra Modi’s rule. Subsequent governments have simply laid bricks-upon-bricks to build the very foundation on which Narendra Modi and his coterie are today trying to establish a strong, tyrannical and blood-thirsty Hindutva fascist empire.
It’s true that the official democratic rights of the people were curbed when Indira Gandhi declared National Emergency to save her rule from an imminent fall. However, the truth is, though the emergency was officially relaxed in 1977, its reign never ended with the fall of Indira Gandhi. The undeclared emergency did survive for decades and consolidated absolute powers in the hand of the rulers of New Delhi irrespective of their hue. No party took the lead to reveal the gross violation of human rights during an unending reign of an undeclared emergency.
The Mockery of Democracy and Reign of an Undeclared Emergency
Indian parliamentary democracy only represents the interest of the big feudal landlords, comprador and crony capitalists, and the foreign capital. It works with a misogynist, patriarchal and utmost Brahmanical outlook that aim at persecuting the Dalits, Muslims, Adivasis and the poor with impunity. State repression targeted people of these identities and a handful of upper-caste Hindu elites and super rich only enjoy all the fruits of “development” around which the political rhetoric of mainstream parties revolve.
When Nehru dismissed a communist-led government in Kerala, he didn’t need an emergency; when Nehru arrested and threw communists behind the bars during India’s aggression on socialist China in 1962, an emergency wasn’t required; when the Indian state killed thousands of Naxalites, including their leaders, since 1967, under the garb of protecting law and order, no emergency was ever required; when Sikhs were butchered in Delhi and later in Punjab, when Muslims were butchered in Meerut, Bhagalpur, Mumbai or Gujarat, or Christians were killed, raped and maimd in Kandhamal, no emergency was imposed; when more than 100,000 Kashmiri men, women and children were butchered by the Indian state under the guise of maintaining law and order in a colonised region, emergency wasn’t declared; when hundreds were killed in Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram or Assam by the Indian rulers to keep people of these places subjugated to New Delhi, emergency wasn’t required; when the Indian state declared its official war against millions of Adivasis living in central and eastern parts of the country, to drive these tribal people away from their land, forests and rivers so that these can be offered to big mining giants for plundering, emergency wasn’t declared.
However, the emergency was declared when New Delhi had to arrest the mainstream opposition leaders and lodge them in government guest house-turned-makeshift jails. The emergency was required to muzzle the mainstream newspapers to stop circulating any anti-government content. It was declared when the contradiction between different sections of the ruling class became severe and reached an irreconcilable stage. It wasn’t declared when the contradiction between the people and the Indian rulers turned acute and the former demanded their just share of power, rather, it was declared when one section of the rulers demanded power and another section refused it.
A formal emergency is mostly an outcome of any irreconcilable antagonism between different sections of the ruling classes; for the ruled, exploited and the oppressed people, any day is a day of an undeclared emergency and it has remained so for years. The state has allowed different political outfits, including some radical leftwing forces, to use a “free” atmosphere created by it, for sometime, to let the people’s frustration vent itself out through mass rallies, deputations and other legal movements, however, it cracked whip as soon as these movements aimed at uniting people in any revolutionary struggle for democracy, economic equality or social justice.
Since the British colonial rulers passed the baton to them, the Indian rulers, who are largely upper-caste vegetarian Hindus from North and West India and mostly speak Hindi, have been keen to establish a Brahmanical fascist and totalitarian regime, where the rights of the poor, who are mostly the backward caste Hindus, the out-caste Dalits, the Adivasis and those from the minority communities like Muslims and Christians, will be suppressed; where the labour of those down the caste hierarchy can be usurped by those at the top using caste privileges and where food, cloth, language choices can be thrust down the throat of the majority of the people by a handful of rich, upper-caste rulers.
Though the Indian Constitution so far spoke about secularism, its practice remained extremely flawed from the very beginning; the secular character of the Constitution, against which the RSS-led Hindutva camp had always raised its fist, remained a chimaera, which didn’t bring any relief to the lives of the religious minorities, oppressed communities, rather it was used to by subsequent rulers to strengthen Brahmanical domination and to promote the rule of religion over the people than science or logic.
When the Narendra Modi-led BJP government, filled with rabble-rousers and riot mongers, was formed in 2014 with an overwhelming majority, it was a signal that the global economic crisis troubling the international monopoly-finance capital, the crisis faced by Indian comprador and crony capitalists due to the volatile global economic condition and the crisis faced by the feudal landlords, who control the agrarian economy of India, have forced the Indian rulers to shed their democratic and inclusive mask and reveal their grotesque face to the people. Narendra Modi and his sycophants exemplify exactly what the Indian ruling class, the people from upper-strata of the class-caste ridden society, stand for.
It was a signal that the Indian rulers are keen to plunder and loot the resources of the country, including its labour, to maximise their super-profit and survive the bad times reigning in the world of global monopoly-finance capitalism. This was a sign that the Indian rulers are ready to discard the so-called democratic institutions and culture that they have reared since last seven decades to hoodwink the people and have a direct, naked, Hindutva-inspired, Brahmanical fascist state in its place, where people will be forced to show obeisance and dissent, even from the most harmless quarters, will be mercilessly suppressed.
The Modi regime has been faithfully implementing this wish of the Indian rulers, whose dominant section stands behind the Hindutva fascist ideology as at present it’s the only ideology that represents the interest of the Indian ruling classes in the most comprehensive manner and helps the Indian ruling classes to divide, divert and then exploit the people. This loyalty displayed by Narendra Modi, the RSS and the BJP, and the ideology of Hindutva fascism in supporting and furthering the interest of the Indian rulers, is the sole reason that the rulers are happy with the regime and want it to continue for a long time to come, even by changing the Constitution.
It’s important to note that since its inception, Narendra Modi-led BJP regime at the centre and different provinces have ensured that communal hatred and violence against the Muslims, Christians, tribals and Dalits, and the suppression of the poor people’s rights are institutionalised and normalised by providing them with an official endorsement. From unscrupulous crony capitalists to blood-thirsty Brahmanical Gau Rakshaks, everyone on the wrong side of the sacred battle between the people aspiring for democracy and rulers standing behind fascism, have received the state’s patronage and support in their evil endeavours.
The impunity with which communal rioters, riot mongers, rapists, Gau Rakshaks and crony-comprador capitalists have been operating in India proves that the entire state machinery is now standing behind them unapologetically and Narendra Modi’s regime is ensuring that the state adopts the saffron colour officially, without even uttering the word- national emergency. While under this undeclared emergency the people are gradually losing their rights, the workers are losing their jobs, the peasants and rural poor are pushed to severe economic distress, the rich, the feudal landlords, bureaucrats, comprador and crony capitalists, and foreign corporations are extracting huge profit from the Indian soil and from the agony of its people. From land to water, from air to forests, everything is sacrificed to fulfil the corporate lust and greed for super-profit.
It’s not an alarm of an undeclared emergency that the Modi regime is arresting those sane voices who are protesting against the blatant loot and plunder, against the communal politics or corruption, rather the situation where the press is wilfully overlooking the need to inform the people about the peril of fascism, where the opposition parties are not in a position to build up a massive people’s movement against the fascist Hindutva camp and the Modi regime’s anti-people policies, a situation where the incessant killing of Muslim men, torture on Dalits and tribals, harassment of Christian people are normalised, these all make the present situation a worst one than a declared emergency.
What is the way out from the undeclared emergency?
Yes, we the people of India have been living under an undeclared emergency ever since the British colonial rulers handed over power to their servile agents to rule the country. The fundamental rights, the democratic rights of the people are tossed and crushed by the rulers at their whim; there is no space for dissent for the poor, the oppressed, the exploited people, rather they’re enslaved by brute force, tied by the threads of economic and social exploitation and forced to live in a condition of semi-pauperisation and semi-starvation. This undeclared emergency isn’t a new thing to happen, rather it’s just that Narendra Modi’s Hindutva fascist regime has exposed too much of it. Those crying about undeclared emergency must delve deep into the problem and show the people a durable solution and not merely suggest voting for another electoral alliance.
It’s now time to see how we can get rid of the undeclared emergency and allow the working class, the peasantry, the toiled masses, who form 85 per cent of the Indian population to gain democracy for themselves? What’s the path that will lead the Indian people to the realm of freedom and democracy from the gutter of an undeclared emergency followed by Hindutva fascist tyranny?
The situation prevailing in India is worst than the period of 1975-77, when Indira Gandhi officially snatched away the rights of the people and opened a barrage of state repression upon the poor and the marginalised people. It’s worse because in 1975 the people knew who their enemies were and they fought against the Indira Gandhi-led Congress regime with their full might and forced its downfall. Nothing such appears remotely on the radar of Indian politics now. The undeclared emergency blurs the real challenges before the people and diverts mass attention.
Also, with the mainstreaming of communal hatred, the legitimisation of communal violence by the Modi regime, the unity of the working class, the peasantry and the toiled masses has received a jolt and cleavages have appeared, which the RSS is trying to widen to achieve its goal. In such a situation it’s imperative for those who are serious about combating the fascist menace to reach out their core constituency, the working class, the peasantry and the toiled people, who are definitely discontented with the policies of the Modi regime with an agenda of uniting them and organising them.
The advent of social media has indeed provided a voice to many of those who didn’t have a platform to speak against injustice and exploitation earlier, however, a lot of political activities have divorced themselves from the grassroots and took shelter in the virtual world of social-media. The social-media activism has thrown a great challenge before the task of building a people’s movement against the Hindutva fascist rule of the Modi regime and the undeclared emergency that’s reigning in the country, especially for the poor and the oppressed people.
The struggle against Hindutva fascism, the struggle for social justice, equality, secularism, democracy and freedom from tyranny can’t happen through social media hashtags, celebrity conferences and t-shirt donning, rather it can happen by uniting the poor people at the grassroots, by politically educating, uniting and arousing them. Until the democratic forces keep away from this core task, all their rhetoric on fighting “undeclared emergency” and Hindutva fascism would remain as farce only. It’s time that the Indian people free themselves from the shackles of the emergency that tied them since years and march towards the realm of real democracy, secularism, socialism, freedom and equality. For that to happen, a strong movement against Hindutva fascism and the Indian ruling classes must start right now at the grassroots.
Pramod Singh is based in Patna. He is a political analyst who continuously monitors the events taking place around him. He is interested in learning foreign languages and he is an occasional poet.